Jun 072012

I am in the process of renewing my permanent residency in the United States. Many people have asked me why I did not opt for US citizenship instead. I told them I was not interested and events in London celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee explain why.

When I watched on Tuesday morning CNN’s coverage of the carriage procession through London, the scenes that played out on my TV screen brought a lump to my throat. The Queen with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in the 1902 State Landau, escorted by the Household Cavalry – Blues and Royals to the front, Life Guards to the rear — was a sight uniquely British and filled me with pride.

The balcony scene at Buckingham Palace, with the RAF flypast, the Feu de Joie by The Guards and the three cheers for Her Majesty sent shivers down my spine. Why? Because I am British and proud to be so.

At the end of the Diamond Jubilee concert, ABC broadcast the highlights on Tuesday evening, Prince Charles expressed the sentiments of the nation. He said that the Queen had made us proud to be British and I totally agree.

The crowning glory to the concert was one of the best renditions of God Save The Queen I have ever witnessed, even if few people knew the words of the second verse, followed by a truly spectacular firework display. The fireworks were accompanied by extracts from Handel’s Coronation Anthem — Zadok The Priest; Holst’s Jupiter/I Vow To Thee My Country; Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, more popularly known as Land of Hope And Glory; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The Holst and Elgar pieces, capturing the essence of Britain and what it means to be British, stirred my soul and tugged at my heart strings.

From these distant shores, it is easy to see that monarchy is the glue that holds the nation together. The Queen has provided constancy throughout my lifetime. I was born a few days after the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953. While Presidents of the United States and British Prime Ministers have come and gone, the Queen has remained in place as head of state, aloof from the mire of politics.

In some ways the Queen is the granny to the nation, while the Prime Minister is the parent. And when the parent does things that the nation dislikes, granny is always there to offer comfort and solace. She never passes judgement on the policies and actions of political leaders or tries to undermine their authority. She simply helps to make the nation feel good about itself.

To become a US citizen, I would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the American flag. I simply could not bring myself to turn my back on Britain’s pomp and circumstance; propriety and decorum. In swearing such an oath, I would be betraying my heritage, my loyalty to Britain and all she stands for. No thanks.

As Ronald Searle, the creator of the St Trinian’s cartoons, once said:

You can’t simply put on a nationality like a jacket. I remain extremely English whatever happens.

And the same goes for me. I will stick with my permanent resident status and continue to come under the auspices of Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State.

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May 022011

I woke up on Friday morning just in time to see Prince William and Kate Middleton emerge on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace and the couple kiss.

I didn’t get chance to see any of the earlier coverage until Friday evening. My wife and I were on the road most of the day heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit with her brother. Actually, her brother lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina but who has heard of that.

BBC America showed highlights of the Royal Wedding. I particularly wanted to see, and hear, the hymn Jerusalem being sung during the service at Westminster Abbey. My patience was not rewarded. The highlights reached the point where the couple left the church and there had been no hide nor hair of Jerusalem.

Fortunately, Channel 113 was showing a re-run of the wedding in its entirety. Sure enough, the strains of Jerusalem rang through Westminster Abbey followed by a fanfare by members of the Royal Air Force Band and the singing of God Save The Queen.

Jerusalem is a firm favourite of mine. The words by William Blake set to a stirring tune by Hubert Parry embody England and all that it stands for. As an expat, it sends a shiver down my spine and brings a lump to my throat.

BBC America saw fit to exclude both those items from its highlights. And I think we know the reason why. The BBC may well be the British Broadcasting Corporation but anything that smacks of patriotism, flying the flag or Britain’s proud heritage is a no-no these days, unless it serves to denigrate Britain.

I would imagine many in the BBC positively winced at the prospect of having to cover the Royal Wedding, especially in view of the last two Labour Prime Ministers not being invited. It was possibly the prospect of being lynched by an angry and outraged license-paying public that made the powers that be in the organization concede to showing the event.

And I guess the programme controllers thought they could get away with omitting Jerusalem and God Save The Queen from the highlights for viewers in America. Wrong!

Apr 222011

Jacksonville’s Corporate Run took place yesterday evening. It is a run/walk of 5K and attracts in the region of 3,000 participants from the city’s corporations, government agencies, financial and legal firms.

My wife is the office administrator of the Jacksonville office of a leading Florida legal firm. As a cancer survivor, she is very much into health and fitness, working out every day at a gym in San Marco and following the strict eating regime imposed by Weight Watchers. She ensures her firm has a good number of participants in this annual event.

The finish line. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

She ran the 5k in a time of 32:19 and was considerably faster than several women half her age and less than six minutes behind the fastest woman from her firm — a 27-year-0ld attorney.

I just go along for the free food and beer and to socialize with my wife’s work colleagues, many of whom are the bright young things striving to carve out a legal career and the wealth that comes with it. Of course, I also take my Ricoh GRD III along. The resulting images are unlikely to fall within the realm of fine art photography, more like reportage images from my days as a journalist.

Runners stretch out before the race. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

After the race, one of the young attorneys called me across to meet a fellow Brit – a guy in his late twenties.

We were introduced and I asked him where he was from in England.

“London,” he replied.

“What part of London?” I asked.


“Watford’s not in London,” I said in a somewhat derisory tone.

“It’s the northern most Tube station,” he fired back.

Inwardly, I said to myself, “Whatever.”

“So you are a Watford supporter,” I said, bringing the conversation round to the universal topic of football.

‘No, Tottenham Hotspur,” he said unashamedly.

Back in England, people who live in a town with its own football club but who follow a more glamorous side from another city are known as glory hunters.

I had met my first glory hunter and one who also had an abysmal knowledge of geography.

In order for Watford to qualify as as part of London, it would need to be one of the 32 London Boroughs that make up Greater London. It is not.

Watford is borough separated from Greater London by the Three Rivers District Council to the south. To say that it is a part of London is like saying Macclesfield is part of Manchester.

But I guess London is a better line when trying to impress American girls. At least most of them have heard of the UK’s capital. And if they haven’t, he could be on to a winner.

I never did find out what he did for a living in Jacksonville but it is obviously something that draws on his innate talent for dispensing bullshit.

Apr 062011

Other London churches may be greater and grander but for me St Martin-in-the-Fields offers splendour on a more manageable scale. The name itself evokes visions of a London where the countryside was just a stone’s throw away from the centre of the city.

The front entrance of the church. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The present church was designed by James Gibbs. Work started in 1772 and the building was completed in 1722. Recently, the church has undergone a £36-million facelift by Eric Parry Architects, which won a Europa Nostra Award.

Part of the facelift turned the crypt into a bistro, a highly imaginative use of space and exposing the original brickwork lends considerable character, as do the headstones that form the floor.

The crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The church also plays host to musical concerts — evening concerts by candlelight, free lunchtime concerts and also jazz concerts in the crypt.

I was lucky enough to attend an evening concert during my trip to London.  The Belmont Ensemble of London, conductor Peter G Dyson, played works by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. With the strains of Baroque music filling the church’s opulent interior, it was not difficult to imagine being among London society of the 18th century, the women with their low-cut gowns, the men resplendent in their wigs and finery.

Ornate decor of St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The concert, and the magnificient setting, will live long in my memory, an experience to be treasured. My only regret was not to have been able to catch a concert featuring a choral work, such as the one on May 7, when The English Chamber Choir will perform Mozart’s Requiem.

That’s something to look forward to on my next trip.

Chancel window St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Mar 312011

A family bereavement saw me back in the UK last week for the funeral. The next few posts will have a distinctly British flavour, relating to my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent and London.

A week ago I attended an evening concert at St Martin-In-The-Fields Church, more about that in a subsequent post. During the intermission I went outside for a cigarette. The church frontage offers a vantage point from which to survey Trafalgar Square, the site of Nelson’s Column.

Nelson's Column, London, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Like most cities in the world, London has floodlit many of its famous old buildings. The domes of the National Portrait Gallery on the north side of the square were bathed in a soft light. But Trafalgar Square itself was shrouded in darkness. It struck me that it would be a good idea to illuminate the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson that stands atop Nelson’s Column.

When Nelson reportedly said: “I see no ships.” I am not bloody surprised. It’s too damned dark to see anything.

The floodlighting of Nelson’s statue would provide a point of focus in the nightly gloom and enable it to dominate the square as it does during the hours of daylight. It would also make for a great nighttime photograph.

I suppose the argument against such a proposal these days would be that such expense cannot be justified. For all of Britain’s current economic plight, it didn’t strike me as a country scratching around for its next loaf of bread. The wealth is still there, it is just a question of tapping into it for the common good.

If any Londoners read this post, may I suggest that you contact the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and put forward my idea.

Come on, Boris! You know it makes sense.

Feb 042011

My English friends came to visit with us yesterday afternoon but before they arrived I took advantage of a lull in the rain to get out and about with my Ricoh GRD III. About 200 yards from my house, I came across this large puddle reflecting a palm tree. I shot in RAW and converted to B&W with Silver Efex Pro in Photoshop CS3.

Riverside, Jacksonville, Florida. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

My friends return to England today and yesterday’s weather seemed to be preparing them for their return. At one point, they checked to see what the weather was like in England. The temperature in London was the same as Jacksonville — 52 degrees F, so it was quite literally home from home.

We had dinner at the Hovan Restaurant in Five Points, a favourite eating place of mine, especially since becoming good friends with the owner, Johnny. He joined us for a time and got into a discussion with Charlie about the situation in Egypt.

Both Caroline and Charlie learned just how big the Super Bowl is in America and they were both surprised to discover that a great many women are just as interested in watching the Super Bowl, and NFL games in general, as  American men. In Britain, football — I refuse to call it soccer — is still regarded as something of a male preserve.